The Brussels-based artist Toon Fibbe discusses his work, approach and visions: powerful imagery dissecting the cut-throat world of 21st Century neoliberal banking culture – from an almost anthropological starting point – and piecing these elements together in rather telling oeuvres. Starting with influences from personal interactions and experiences, working through performative research and ending with poignant social commentary; the Dutch artist’s visual career delving into all sorts of visual styles is not for the faint-hearted.
At its core, what is your work about? What is its starting point and statement?
My work deals with metaphors, ghostly and monstrous ones in particular, employed to understand economy – both current and throughout history. It departs from the idea that political economy has always shared an affinity with the ghastly, which is visible for instance in a metaphor like the invisible hand of Adam Smith, but also in the writing of Marx. I’m looking into a publication called Het Groote Tafereel der Dwaasheid, made in 1720 in response to the first global stock market crash. I’ve found countless prints and stories in it that refer to supernatural presences, in relation to the crash. In my work, I draw comparisons between the ghosts of capital and the current high frequency trading algorithms that dominate the stock market of today.
Can you talk to us about your approach in general? What characterises your work?
The driving force of my practice lies in the thinking, writing, acting and enacting of characters. This activity spawns through objects, texts, and dialogues, and usually takes shape in the form of texts and performances, either in front of a camera or live. Currently I base my work on interviews with stock market traders who, at the end of the 90s, started to wear platform heels to elevate themselves above the other traders so they could trade faster. These heels became so high that at a certain point accidents started to happen and the Chicago exchange deemed it necessary to install regulation concerning the maximum heel size. I translate these interviews into performances, incorporating fashion, sculpture and music.
How do you actually work on a piece, from start to finish?
It can be very different depending on the work. I often start of by gathering a lot of fragments of texts, images, bits of conversations and newspaper clippings. Not for archival purposes, but to allow space and time for this information to be rearranged in my head – kind of like a fermentation process, creating new alliances and combinations. It happens often that I suddenly remember something I saw years ago, and go back to it. A good example are the aforementioned traders on heels. I read about those ages ago. I started to connect this to the current high frequency trading infrastructure present in Belgium. It was only then that it became a work. It was this extra information that allowed me to write a text, produce objects and fashion around this subject.
Who would you say was instrumental in shaping your artistic practice?
Many, many people! Perhaps this is weird but while making work I often have many conversations in my head – with artists, friends, writers I like, characters from movies. I think everyone does that to an extent, or maybe it’s just me being a bit schizoid.
I draw comparisons between the ghosts of capital and the current high frequency trading algorithms that dominate the stock market of today.
How do you see yourself fit into the country’s contemporary art scene?
Although I’ve been in Brussels for quite a while, I still feel like an outsider, but comfortably so, I must say. I think that as soon as I feel at home I’ll pack my bags. Brussels excites me a lot, its chaos, its people. I walk a lot in Brussels, not many things are too far away. Brussels to me always feels like a big city in a small package.
Talk to us about the people around you, your local scene. To what extent does it inspire and influence you?
I travel around a lot so I always feel like I’m present in multiple scenes at the same time. But in Brussels I’ve somehow ended up with a a group of people I hold really dear. For instance two friends of mine recently started an artist-run-boutique called feeelings, which is – besides a beautiful boutique – most of all based around holding friendship, affinity and tenderness as strengthful alliances.
What does success look like to you?
So this is kind of my ‘beauty pageant world peace’ answer but I think success would happen when artworks could somehow contribute to imagining a new, improved or different organisation of society. Whether a work is actively pursuing that, critiquing current circumstances in which we live or provides means to view situations, objects, mechanisms differently. I wonder if art can really change the current situation, but I do feel it can contribute positive change.
Which Belgian artists do you follow, look at for inspiration? Either from the past or the present.
Oh there are too many! But lately I was recently really taken by some short stories by Louis Paul Boon, so I think that will be my pick for now.
On a more personal note, how does your everyday inform your work? And what do your parents, your family, think of what you do?
I talk to my parents a lot about my practice, my father is an architect and my mother an artist, so what we are working on in our practices quite naturally enters our conversations. They’re very supportive and it’s great to discuss work with them.toonfibbe.com